The Recycling of Falsehoods

One of the things my colleagues and I found when reviewing the history of the ’70s global cooling myth was the consistent way alleged evidence was recycled through the literature by those perpetuating the myth. It was easy to verify the recycling in two ways. First, there were characteristic mistakes and elisions introduced early that were then repeated verbatim by other authors. Second, we found in many instances that the original text, taken as a whole, said something quite different than the recycled version.

Journalists, scholars, and anyone trying to think well have an obligation to drill down as close as they can to the original source of the material as they can. To do otherwise, recycling quotes merely to prove one’s point without doing the due diligence to ensure the quote really does support that point, is cheap sophistry, as Benny Peiser, Christopher Monckton and others seem to have done in their repeated recycling of a quote from Sir John Houghton that Houghton never seems to have uttered.


  1. Excellent post and barb, John. People need to read these carefully, not just accept blindly.
    And there are hundreds of examples of this kind of blind, even academic, acceptance of assertions that are then conflated as truths.

    The “climate hoax” is that there is no hoax – ignorant critics confuse scientific uncertainty with “unsettled science.”

  2. John,

    Excellent point. Let me also say, though, that we sort of this thing most often in newspapers (and now I suppose blogs).

    But many if not most magazines, which is where I’ve worked my whole professional life, generally employ fact checkers. This also goes for book excerpts. (Authors are always astonished at this, when their excerpts come back with all manner of corrections.)

    Still, for all of us working in journalism, your cautionary tale here is worth keeping in mind.

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